Introduction: How to Apply Elf Ears

You can buy elf ears (or alien ears, or devil horns, or other scarier latex prosthetics) online or at at your friendly neighborhood costume shop, but professional makeup artists to apply them are harder to come by.

Never fear. Find a friend, show them this Instructable, and you'll be in good hands. My friends dubbed me Head Elf Ear Artist and I don't even know how to apply normal makeup. (They were busy with their own Instructables, and you can't do your own ears. You just can't.)

Step 1: Acquire Supplies and Allow Yourself Enough Time

You need a few things besides just the latex prosthetics you're going to apply. I was clueless and time crunched enough that I just bought the recommended adhesives and removers and makeup at the costume shop. You may prefer to be a little thriftier.

You'll need:

  • A pair of elf ears
  • A very small amount of spirit gum (Structural)
  • Spirit gum remover (Any oil you're willing to rub on your skin)
  • Liquid latex (To smooth the edge between prosthetic and skin)
  • Makeup (You'll need special makeup to put on the latex. Normal makeup will break down the latex, and not stick, and you'll panic thirty minutes before your event. Don't laugh, it happened to my friend.) (The makeup we got, Ben Nye, was very very stiff. A liquid would have been nice for basic coverage, at least.)

We didn't have the forethought to photograph all of the supplies since we were frantically applying four people's ears two hours before a wedding that was an hour drive away.

According to timestamps on the photos, I was able to complete one pair of ears in 45 minutes, including drying time, but I would allow two hours for your first attempt. Liquid latex can cover a multitude of sins, but it takes time to dry.

Step 2: Remove Stray Hairs, Fit the Ear On

You probably have some hair near your ears. You might want to minimize it. I trimmed the growing-out-shaved-bits around canida's ears. I didn't do anything about the ear fuzz on aneel's ears, which I regretted when it came time to apply the liquid latex.

Contrary to other online application tips, we found that fitting the ear tips on and applying the spirit gum in place was the easiest method. We used a comb to hold back the hair at the top of the ear and wrestled the tip on, making sure it was securely covering the front and back of the ear.

You may have to pull the ear on and off a few times to get it trimmed correctly for a given ear.

Step 3: Apply Spirit Gum

We found it was easiest to apply the spirit gum while the ear tip was in place on the ear. We applied spirit gum to most of the lower front of the ear tip. A little goes a long way.

After applying the spirit gum, you have to wait for about a minute for the spirit gum to get tacky. If you try to press the spirit gum in place before it's ready, it won't hold at all. But no harm done. Just wait longer.
You can test the tackiness of the spirit gum with your finger tip. Just slide it under and see if it's sticky.

Once the spirit gum is tacky, press the ear tip to the ear and hold firmly for about fifteen seconds.

If your ear has been well trimmed, and you've got the right amount of spirit gum, your ear should look close to perfect already. Some ears are harder to fit than others. That's what liquid latex is for.

Step 4: Apply Liquid Latex

Liquid latex is malleable stuff, and there are lots of different techniques used to apply it. I found two strokes were useful here. First, to cover the sharp edge, start brushing from the skin to the ear tip. This fills in the gap nicely.

If a second layer is necessary, it can be helpful to brush from the ear tip to the skin to cover the brush strokes. Only my first ears required a second layer. As I improved my technique (and worked on people without ear fuzz), I filled in the gap with one layer.

It's critical to allow the latex to dry between layers and before applying makeup. The latex will be shiny when dry, and turns a translucent pinkish color. Test it with your finger to make sure it's dry.

Step 5: Apply Makeup

Remember, you can't use regular makeup on latex prosthetics. I think the oil breaks down the latex.

If you're lucky, some combination of the four color wheel will match your skin tone. This is one of those things you might want to check before you are miles away from a costume shop and your event starts in half an hour. The two proto-elves in these photos were lucky, and it was easy to match their color. The two proto-elves not pictured in the makeup shots needed a little more pink and brown. Ears are generally pinker than the rest of your face, so a little blush might be appropriate.

I don't know to apply regular makeup, so some of these tips might be no-brainers for those of you who do:

  • The brush can't hold a lot of makeup, so you will need to alternate a few swipes on the ear, a few swipes on the makeup wheel.
  • Grease paint is stiff, and it will take longer than you think to cover an entire ear.
  • Apply a base coat first, then work in a few darker contours.
  • Make sure you cover the back of the ear, too.
  • A little pink on the tip of the ear is cute.

Step 6: Make Merry!

Go on, officiate a wedding, have your Christmas photos taken, rock the casbah, as you wish.

Step 7: Removing the Ears

I mentioned spirit gum remover in the list of supplies, but never mentioned using it. I generally used it to wipe off my fingers between ear applications. We all just yanked our ears off (slowly or not, depending on our philosophies, and the philosophies of the people standing next to us "helping").

I ended up just scrubbing with soap and water to wash off the combination of spirit gum, liquid latex and makeup. A little mineral oil would probably make it easier to remove the bits of spirit gum and latex.